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Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2011) 15, 201e208

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A mathematical model of effects on specific joints

during practice of the Sun Salutation e A sequence
of yoga postures
S.N. Omkar a,*, Meenakshi Mour b, Debarun Das b

Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560012, India
Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Institute of Technology, Durgapur, India

Received 4 July 2008; received in revised form 12 July 2009; accepted 12 July 2009

KEYWORDS Summary The ‘Sun Salutation’ consists of a sequence of ten yoga postures, each posture
Yoga; counteracting the preceding one producing a balance between flexion and extension,
Sun Salutation; performed with synchronized breathing and aerobic activity. As this sequence is often
Dynamic moments; performed and recommended by many yoga practitioners, there is a need for the development
Joint loading; of a biomechanical model to support its reported clinical benefits. This requires a detailed
Osteogenesis knowledge of the nature of the forces and moments at the various joints involved. A simple
mathematical model based on rigid body mechanics is developed for each of the Sun Salutation
postures. Dynamic moments with high magnitudes and rates, applied with unusual distribution
patterns, optimal for osteogenesis, are found to occur. Also, the joints are subjected to
submaximal loadings thus ensuring that none of the joints are overstressed.
ª 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Introduction postures set in a dynamic form, performed in a single,

conscious and graceful flow (Figure 1). The postures inge-
Many metals, when combined appropriately and in the right niously combine forward-bending poses countered with
proportion yield an alloy, which usually has novel properties. backward-bending ones. It is claimed that just as the rays of
The best of orchestras is a harmonious combination of various the sun reach every part of the globe, the sequence of these
instruments. Likewise, the ‘Sun Salutation’ consists of postures ensure that ‘energy’ reaches every part of the body.
a specific sequence of yoga postures performed with Hence, the name Sun Salutation. The sequence does not
synchronized breathing. This sequence consists of 10 require any gadgets, takes only a few minutes to perform and
can be done in a limited space. With regular practice, it is
claimed that all the parts of the human body are felt to be
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ91 80 22932416/22932417/ exercised and rejuvenated (Omkar, 2007).
22932873; fax: þ91 80 23600134. Studies have shown that the practice of yoga may be
E-mail address: (S.N. Omkar). associated with an improvement in cardio respiratory

1360-8592/$ - see front matter ª 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
202 S.N. Omkar et al.

Figure 1 Cycle representing the 10 postures of the Sun Salutation.

fitness (Prasad et al., 2001; Tran et al., 2001), as well as Adams (2007) in their study pointed out that a vigorous style of
muscular strength and endurance (Birch, 1995). A study yoga is equivalent to modern exercises as far as heart rates are
that evaluated heart rate for standing yoga postures found concerned but due to the varied physiological responses of the
lower heart rates and higher rates of perceived exertion for body to different styles of yoga ‘asanas’, different levels of
the yoga postures, as compared to treadmill walking physical fitness can be achieved (Cowen and Adams, 2007).
(DiCarlo et al., 1995). Thus, researchers have felt the need The movement patterns involved in the Sun Salutation
for work on fitness-related outcomes associated with yoga and its impact on calorie burning makes it very attractive
practice (Cowen and Adams, 2007). The amount of calories for all practitioners (Omkar, 2007). It has also been found to
burned during a session of Sun Salutation in which the decrease climacteric symptoms, perceived stress, and
sequence of postures is repeated 120 times, classified by neuroticism in perimenopausal women, more effectively
the weight group is given in Table 1 (Omkar, 2007). than physical exercise (Chattha et al., 2008). Experience
Though research has found yoga to be equivalent to shows that it is also an excellent warm up exercise,
modern forms of exercise in terms of energy expenditure promoting flexibility of the spine and limbs.
(DiCarlo et al., 1995; Rai et al., 1994; Raju et al., 1986), energy Since motions at joints are all rotary, rotary moment is
expenditure during the various aspects of yoga e ‘asana’ the product of the linear force and the moment arm or
(the physical practice of postures), ‘pranayama’ (breathing mechanical advantage of the muscle about the joint’s
exercises) and ‘savasana’ (relaxation), varies.Cowen and centre of rotation. The calculation of joint forces and
moments during a movement is a classical process in
human movement analysis. Moments experienced by the
Table 1 Energy expenditure during the Sun Salutation lower extremity joints during five common yoga postures
(Omkar, 2007). have been evaluated (Westwell et al., 2006). In this pilot
study, three-dimensional motion data of joint moments
Weight (Kg) Energy expenditure obtained from a single subject were normalized to body
for 120 Cycles (Kcal) mass (Nm/kg). Large moments generated at the hip and
55 185 knee during the five postures studied were found to be
65 275 comparable to those that are experienced during running.
77 380 However, their study found minimal power absorption and
impact forces at these joints. Thus, they concluded that
A mathematical model of effects on specific joints 203

yoga may be considered as a favorable alternative to

Table 2 Segmental relative weight and relative length of
running thereby minimizing joint deterioration. Hence, it
human body (Ferreira et al., 2007).
is not only important but also interesting to quantify the
moments and forces acting on various joints while per- Segment Relative weight Relative length
forming the Sun Salutation. In this paper, we develop Head 0.08 0.182
a simple mathematical model for all the postures in the Arm 0.0325  2 0.441
Sun Salutation and compute the forces and moments Trunk 0.4074 0.288
occurring at various joints using the basic principles of Leg 0.2238  2 0.530

We need to know the body weight distribution and

Development of a mathematical model length distribution in order to determine the loads at each
segment. This has been done with the help of the distri-
Measurement of forces and moments can be complex and bution chart given in Table 2 (Ferreira et al., 2007).
thus mathematical models are often used to estimate these The following assumptions have been made while
loads which involve rigid body mechanics. The rigid body computing the joint moments:
mechanics approach makes various assumptions about the
body, including non-deformability, fixed center of mass,  The body has been idealised as an arrangement of rigid
and homogeneity of the material. links connected by the six major joints namely wrist,
To perform an accurate analysis we must determine elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle, which are
information such as structural loads, geometry and support considered to be hinge joints. The hip and lower back
conditions. For calculation of forces and moments, the have been idealised as one joint.
principle of superposition is considered, which states ‘‘The  The body has been idealised as a one-dimensional system
moment on any bar due to the total load is the algebraic moving about the saggital plane. We have considered the
sum of the moments due to several parts of the load’’. In saggital view because the movements during the Sun
the case of a body subjected to several loads, the principle Salutation primarily take place in this plane. The results
of superposition is very helpful in calculating the moment of saggital plane kinetic analysis have provided very
acting at any point. useful profiles for examining motor patterns of normal
The bending moment at a section through a structural and pathological gait (Winter and Eng, 1995).
element may be defined as ‘‘the sum of the moments about
that section of all external forces acting to one side of that
section’’. The forces and moments on either side of the Normalization of moments
section must be equal in order to counteract each other and
maintain a state of equilibrium. So the same bending
Joint moments, commonly used to characterize gait, are
moment will result from summing the moments, regardless
affected by factors such as height and weight (Moisio et al.,
of which side of the section is selected.
2003). The un-normalized moments (expressed in Newton-
The Sun Salutation consists of ten postures. As such, the
meters) have significantly greater variability due to both
moment considered on the joints depends on the configu-
height and weight. Normalization is done to reduce the
ration of the body in each posture. Accordingly we vary the
effect of height and weight on joint moments. Two
load to be considered while calculating the moments. As the
commonly used normalization methods are
body is divided into multiple segments and each segment is
subjected to a different load, the bending moment at each
 Body Mass Normalization (BMN) where joint moment is
point must be the sum of that due to each taken separately.
expressed in N m/kg
When a joint is simply supporting the body at the ends, it
 Body WeighteHeight Normalization (%BWHT) where
plays a role of transmitting the load and no moment is
joint moment is expressed as a percentage of Body
generated there. But in case there is an overhang near that
Weight times Height
joint which is supporting the body, then there will be a small
amount of moment due to the weight of the overhang.
The percent Body Weight times Height normalization
An analysis of the factors that influence normal and
scheme is able to account for the variability of height and
prosthetic joint function requires an understanding of free-
weight in the saggital and frontal planes (Sum et al., 1998)
body diagrams. A free-body diagram can be used to sche-
and hence the same has been used in the present study.
matically represent all the forces and moments acting on
a joint. We have considered six different joints namely the
wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and the ankle joint. For Sample calculation
the analysis of these six joints, the body can be divided into
four major segments-head, arm, trunk and legs. To illustrate the analysis of the postures of Sun Salutation,
The concept of equilibrium (Halliday et al., 2008) is we show a sample calculation of the moments at each of
important in understanding and determining the forces and the six joints resulting from posture 8 (Figure 1). The
moments occurring during specific postures of the Sun corresponding free-body diagram considering the data from
Salutation. Using the equations of plane static equilibrium, Table 2 is shown in Figure 2.
the joint reaction forces and moments can be determined Consider the moment balance equation about the ankle
for different conditions. joint:
204 S.N. Omkar et al.

Figure 2 Schematic representation of Posture 8. Index: W0 Z Wrist, E Z Elbow, S Z Shoulder, H Z Hip, K Z Knee, A Z Ankle,
W Z Weight of Body, L Z Length of Body.

MA Z0 body. This posture reinforces the postural muscles and
promotes a healthy lower back.
ð0:4476WÞð0:1425:LÞ þ ð0:4074WÞð0:3753LÞ In posture 2, the subject is trying to bend backwards
stretching the back as much as possible with the arms
þ ð0:08WÞð0:4856LÞ þ ð0:065WÞð0:5553LÞ  RW ð0:625LÞZ0 stretched above the head. As is evident from this posture,
the hip is subjected to the maximum moment, which is in
where RW (Ground Reaction Force on wrist) Z 0.4666W; RA agreement with the data shown in Table 3. In order to keep
(Ground Reaction Force on ankle) Z 1  RW Z 0.5334 W. the legs straight, the knee and ankle joints are simulta-
Based on the computed ground reaction forces and neously subjected to a significant amount of resisting force
segmental loads of the body, we calculate the moments on resulting in a moment. Also, due to an effort to stretch the
the various joints, as follows: arms backwards, there is a significant moment on the
shoulder and the elbow. This posture provides a good
MK (Knee Moment) Z RA (0.1425 L) Z (0.5334 W) stretch for the complete spinal column. This is useful for
(0.1425 L) Z 0.076 WL the muscles and organs of the pelvic, abdominal and chest
MH (Hip Moment) Z RA (0.265 L)  (0.4476 W) cavities. The legs and arms are also benefited.
(0.1225 L) þ 0.076 WL Z 0.1625 WL In postures 3 and 10, the subject bends forward and
ME (Elbow Moment) Z RW (0.1394 L/2) Z 0. 0325 WL places the palms beside the feet. In this posture, the role of
MS (Shoulder Moment) Z RW (0.1394 L)  (0.065 W) the arm is subdued and the majority of the load and the
(0.0697 L) þ 0.0325 WL Z 0.093 WL moment generated due to this posture are taken up by the
MA (Ankle Moment) Z 0 WL hip, knee and the ankle. This posture promotes increased
MW (Wrist Moment) Z 0 WL flexibility in the hamstrings and the gluteal muscles.
In posture 4, the subject takes one leg back and places
In a similar manner, the joint moments and ground the other in front. In this posture, the body tries to stretch
reaction forces (GRF) can be calculated for all the postures. forward on account of the hip (which is reflected by the
These are shown in Table 3 and Figure 3 respectively. peak hip moment in the Table 3) and legs. The leg which is
placed forward experiences a significant moment at the
Results for each posture knee and ankle. This posture promotes mobility of lower
back, knee and ankle. The hip flexors and extensors are also
In posture 1, the subject is standing upright, and hence benefitted.
there is no moment acting on any of the joints. The foot is The analysis of posture 4 holds true for posture 9 as well,
experiencing a reaction force due to the weight of the with the difference being that the leading leg in the former
A mathematical model of effects on specific joints 205

Table 3 Variation of the moments (%BWHT) on the wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joint for one cycle of the Sun
Posture Wrist Elbow Shoulder Hip Knee Ankle
1 0 0 0 0 0 0
2 0.007 0.06 0.077 0.085 0.068 0.077
3 0.003 0.017 0.012 0.06 0.06 0.06
4 0 0.042 0.042 0.031 0.011 0.016
5 0.007 0.007 0.007 0.174 0.094 0
6 0.025 0.025 0.007 0.095 0.072 0
7 0 0.011 0.0085 0.066 0.172 0.04
8 0 0.0325 0.093 0.163 0.076 0
9 0.007 0.007 0.007 0.174 0.094 0
10 0.003 0.017 0.012 0.06 0.06 0.06
11 0 0 0 0 0 0

now makes way for the other leg and itself goes backward. the body taking the shape of an arch. The lower end of this
We study the moments on the same leg which is now trailing arch is supported by the knee and ankle which are sub-
and observe that there is a significant increase in the knee jected to the maximum moment. Also, due to the spine
moment as it is subjected to the reaction force which was stretching there is an appreciable amount of moment on
taken up by the ankle in posture 4. the hip. This posture promotes increased lower back
In posture 5, the shoulder and ankle support the whole flexibility.
body keeping the trunk parallel to the ground. As a result In posture 8, the hips are moved as high as possible and
the hip is subjected to a prominent moment. Although the the spine is stretched downward taking the head as close to
moments on the shoulder, elbow and wrist are found to be the ground as possible. Due to this, the hip is subjected to
low, they experience a high reaction force (about 62% of high moment. In this posture, an effort is made to keep the
body weight). This posture strengthens the upper body, arms straight and fixed, which results in a greater resisting
abdominal, and lower back muscles. It is also beneficial to force developed in the arms which is translated into a high
the arm and feet. shoulder moment as shown in Table 3. The ground reaction
In posture 6, the elbow is bent and the body is parallel to force is shared between the wrist and the ankle, with the
the ground. As a result there is an increase in the elbow and ankle taking a slightly more load. This posture stretches the
wrist moment with a decrease in hip and knee moments hamstrings, increases upper body strength and promotes
because now the majority of the ground reaction force increased flexibility to the chest and mid back.
(about 75% of body weight) is at the arm. This posture
strengthens the abdomen, back, shoulders, and arms. Discussion
In posture 7, the head is raised and bent backward as
much as possible, bending the spine to the maximum with
Figure 4 shows a very interesting pattern in the variation of
moments for the joints of the upper body. It reflects that
the elbow and shoulder joint moments vary almost in
a similar manner. Since the arms are being extended
beyond the shoulder in the second and third posture, the
shoulder experiences a slightly greater moment than the
elbow, hence it is subjected to a greater resisting force. In
the sixth posture, the elbow joint shows a higher value of
moment compared to the other stages as it is in flexion and
at the same time experiences a ground reaction force with
the hand in contact with the ground, supporting the body.
The eighth posture shows a significant difference in the
moments of the elbow and the shoulder joint. With a high
moment being generated, the shoulder joint plays a key
role in this posture. This is because an effort is made to
keep the arms straight and fixed while the hip joint is lifted
up. In all other stages the moments on the elbow and the
shoulder joints are nearly equal.
Meanwhile, there is almost negligible moment on the
wrist for the entire cycle except for the sixth posture. In
the second and third posture, the palm is just resting on the
Figure 3 Variation of ground reaction force (%BW) on the ground without supporting any load, hence it accounts for
ankle, knee and wrist joint while performing one cycle of the the moment only due to the weight of the arm which is
Sun Salutation. (W Z Weight of Body). negligible in comparison to the moments on the other joints.
206 S.N. Omkar et al.

Figure 4 Variation of moments on the wrist, elbow and shoulder joint during one cycle of the Sun Salutation.

The posture in which the wrist acts as a simple support, the variable role in transmitting reaction forces in certain
wrist plays the role of transmitting the load. Hence the wrist postures while transmitting moments in others.
experiences a moment only due to overhang, if any. Studies have shown that dynamic moments with high
Similarly, Figure 5 shows the pattern of variation of magnitudes and rates, applied with unusual distribution
moments for the joints of the lower body. The hip and knee patterns, are optimal for osteogenesis, and that these
joint moments show almost a similar pattern of variation strain-loading histories play an important role in deter-
during the cycle of Sun Salutation. The hip joint shows mining bone morphology (Wang et al., 2006). Persistent,
a greater value of moment in all the postures except in the low-amplitude, high-frequency mechanical strains have
seventh posture where the knee joint supports the body. also been found capable of increasing bone formation rates
The hip is the major joint which is subjected to peak (Fritton et al., 2000). During the Sun Salutation the joints
moments during the Sun Salutation. The moment on the are subjected to dynamic strains and moments as the body
ankle doesn’t show any characteristic curve due to its executes different postures during the cycle.

Figure 5 Variation of moments on the hip, knee and ankle joint during one cycle of the Sun Salutation.
A mathematical model of effects on specific joints 207

Table 4 Comparison of moments during the sun salutation with average moments during daily activities (Chou et al., 2005;
Finley et al., 2001; Simoneau et al., 2000; Westwell et al., 2006) and peak moments which joints sustain during daily activities
(Escamilla et al., 2001; Holzbaur et al., 2007).
Joint Moments (%BWHT)
Average during Average during Peak during Peak values
daily activities the Sun Salutation the Sun Salutation during daily activities
Ankle 0.08 0.023 0.077 0.13
Knee 0.09 0.064 0.172 0.496
Hip 0.098 0.083 0.174 0.416
Shoulder 0.08 0.024 0.093 0.097
Elbow 0.012 0.02 0.06 0.07
Wrist 0.013 0.004 0.025 0.031

The moments which the joints are subjected to during an integrated approach to yoga therapy: a randomized control
the Sun Salutation are comparable to that of daily living study. Menopause 15 (5), 862e870.
activities and exercises as shown in Table 4 e Average Chou, P.P., Chou, Y., Chen, S., Kuo, C., 2005. Relationship between
during Daily Activities (Chou et al., 2005, Finley et al., elbow flexion angle and joint loading of the upper extremity
during a close-chain exercise. In: Proceedings of American Society
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